There are pears on my tree roughly the size of a thumbnail, perfect in shape and color, but very small at the present time. I don’t know what kind they are but from the looks of the tree it has been there for quite some time.
Before eating the pears we must know how to harvest and store them. “For proper flavor and texture, pears must be ripened after harvest. Pears should be picked when fully mature, but still hard and green. The change in skin color from deep to pale green is a guide to proper maturity.”
Andrew Downing  chronicled the history of pears from the early Roman era and quoted such notables as Pliny, Theophrastus, and Virgil. Pliny said the varieties were exceedingly numerous, but doesn’t seem, to have appreciated them much, “all pears whatsoever are but a heavy meat, unless they are well boiled or baked.” Downing went on to say the really delicious qualities of pears weren’t developed until about the 17th century.
“The greatest value of the pear is as a dessert fruit. Next to this, it is highly esteemed for baking, stewing, preserving, and marmalades. In France and Belgium the fruit is very generally dried in ovens, or much in the same way as we do the apple, when it is quite an important article of food.
Dessert pears should have a melting, soft texture, and a sugary, aromatic juice. Kitchen pears, for baking or stewing, should be large, with firm and crisp flesh, moderately juicy.
The juice of the pear, fermented, is called Perry. This is made precisely in the same way as cider, and it is richer and more esteemed by many persons.
For complete instructions on grafting, growing, marketing, etc. and illustrations and descriptions of pre-1860 varieties of pears, see: Field, Thomas Warren. “Pear Culture”. 1858. NY.
Now, gentle reader, would you like to accompany me as I skim through some vintage methods of preserving and using these gifts from Nature?
CHIPPED GINGERED PEARS. 1899.
Eight lbs. of seckle, or other nice pears, 8 lbs. of granulated sugar, ½ lb. candied ginger root, 4 lemons. Chip or slice the pears very fine, slice the ginger root and let these boil together with the sugar for 1 hour, slowly. Boil the lemons whole in clear water until tender, then cut up in small bits, removing the seeds. Add to the pear and boil 1 hour longer and pour that into tumblers…[Put up in jars. Recipes for gingered pears are found universally in cookbooks from this era].
BAKED PEARS. Fannie Farmer. Wipe, quarter, and core pears. Put in a deep pudding-dish, sprinkle with sugar or add a small quantity of molasses, then add water to prevent pears from burning. Cover and cook two or three hours in a very slow oven. Small pears may be baked whole. Seckel pears are delicious when baked.
FRUIT FRITTERS. Fannie Farmer. Fresh peaches, apricots, or pears may be cut in pieces, dipped in batter, and fried same as other fritters. Canned fruits may be used after draining from their syrup.
PICKLED PEARS. 1922. Country Kitchen Cookbook.
½ pk. Small pears; 1 pt. vinegar; 2 lbs. brown sugar; 1 oz. stick cinnamon; ½ tbsp. whole cloves.
Boil sugar, vinegar and spices together for 15-20 minutes. Peel the pears but do not remove the stems. Put into the syrup and cook slowly until soft. Seal in glass jars.
PINEAPPLE AND PEAR PRESERVES. The Settlement Cookbook. 1920.
1 lb. pears; 1 can sliced pineapple; 1 ½ cups sugar; ¾ cup boiling water.
Dissolve sugar in water, let heat to boiling point. Cut pears in halves lengthwise, remove cores and skin and add to hot syrup. Let cook until pears are tender. Cut pineapple in quarters, add to syrup also, and let cook until fruit is clear. Put in sterilized jars and seal.
PEAR CONSERVE. The Settlement Cookbook.
1 pk [peck] pears; 4 lbs. sugar; 1 lb. raisins, 1 ½ lbs. shelled English walnuts, 3 lemons, juice, 2 oranges, juice. Pear, core, and slice the pears in large pieces, crosswise; add sugar and let stand overnight. Drain off the liquid and let boil to a syrup, about 12 minutes, then add pears and the rest of the ingredients, breaking the walnuts into pieces, about the size of the raisins. Let cook slosly until thick and clear, one hour or more. Place in jars…
PEAR BUTTER. Superior Cook Book. 1905.
Pare and cook pears, put through a colander, and to 5 cups pulp add 4 cups sugar, and cook until thickness of apple butter.
PEAR PUFFS. Peel good pears, cut out the blossom end, but leave the stem; simmer the pears until tender in a weak syrup flavored with lemon, then drain, and allow them to cool. Make a good rich pie crust, roll out thin, cut into triangular pieces and cover each pear pinching the crust neatly together, but leaving the stem protruding. Bake in a quick oven to a pale brown, and serve hot or cold.
BAKED PEARS. 1897. Mrs. Owens. Pare and remove the cores, fill with brown sugar and put into a pan with a little water (a cup to 6 or 8 pears) and bake until tender. If ripe it will take but a few minutes. Serve with cream.
PEAR MARMALADE. “The Kentucky Housewife”. 1839.
Take ripe pears, divest them of the peeling and cores, and boil them tender in a very little water. M ash them to a pulp, add three fourths its weight of sugar, and stir and simmer it gently till it gets nearly dry. Flavor it with essence of lemon, and put it up in glass or queen’s ware jars [Seal appropriately.]
PEAR BUTTER. “The Kentucky Housewife”.
Take sweet cider just from the press, and boil it in a preserving kettle till reduced to one third its original quantity. Have ready some fine ripe pears, that have been pared, cored and sliced; put them in the cider, and boil them gently till they are quite soft. Mash them to a pulp, season it with nutmeg, cloves, mace and lemon; set it over a few coals, and simmer it slowly till it is nearly thick enough to slice, stirring it almost constant towards the last, to prevent it burning at the bottom and sides of the kettle. Put it in queensware jars, and if boiled sufficiently, it will keep good a year or two, and will be found fine for the tea or breakfast table. [Seal appropriately.] Lettice Bryan wrote that dried pears made a good sauce when stewed, or they could be made into pear butter instead of fresh pears.
Mrs. Bryan’s method of making cheap vinegar was to place a barrel in the yard, into which put the parings and cores of peaches, apples, or pears, and fill it with water, cover it by spreading a cloth over it, and let it stand for several weeks. “It will not injure the taste of the vinegar to remain with the pumice the greater part of the winter: then draw it off into a clean cask, and in four or five months from the time you commence making it, you will have a pleasant tasted vinegar, strong enough for common purposes.”
12 c. sliced pears; 9 c. sugar; 1/2 fresh lemon, sliced thin
Cover pear slices with sugar and let stand overnight. Enough liquid will be produced to allow cooking without adding water. Stir to mix pears, sugar, and juice. Add lemon slices. Bring to simmer and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until pears are tender, clear, and caramel colored and liquid is consistency of honey. This will take 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Pour preserves into sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 inch headroom and seal with sterilized lids.
8 ripe pears (4 cups); 4 c. sugar; 1 (15 1/4 oz.) can crushed pineapple
Cook pears and sugar until sugar melts; simmer 45 minutes. Add pineapple; cook 5 minutes longer. Spoon into hot jars. Process in hot water bath 10 minutes. Yield: 6 half pints.
PEAR HONEY #2.
8 cups (about 3 pounds) peeled, cored, and chopped pears
1 – 20-ounce can crushed pineapple with syrup
10 cups sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Mix all ingredients and bring mixture to a full rolling boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the pears are tender and mixture thickens, approximately 30 minutes. If the mixture does not thicken you can add about one tablespoon pectin. Place in sterilized jars and seal while still hot.
CARAMEL PECAN SALAD.
Salad greens of choice
3 pears, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
Blue Cheese crumbles, or goat cheese if preferred
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, diced, and drizzled in lemon juice
Dressing of choice
Heat ¼ cup sugar with the pecans and stir until the sugar melts and the pecans are caramelized.
A home-made vinaigrette can be made with 1/3 cup good olive oil, 3 Tbsp-. red wine vinegar, 1 ½ teaspoons sugar; 1 ½ teaspoons prepared mustard, 1 clove garlic, chopped; ½ teaspoon salt and fresh black pepper. Blend together.